Does It Matter Who Buys the Paper?

Call me lazy, but I’ve never felt the urge to buy my own paper for print jobs.

I’m a designer. I envision concepts. I choose the paper. I design. I prepare files, and I even come to press checks willingly most of the time.

Yes, I might know more about paper than the average designer—heck, probably more then many print sales reps—but still, I have no desire to order my own paper.

No doubt times have changed. Many printers don’t hold stock inventories any more, but instead order the paper “just in time.” It sounds easy enough, and print buyers may be saying to themselves, “Why don’t I just order the paper and save a few dollars?”

Temptation and Consequences
As tempting as it sounds to order my own paper, there are too many potentially ugly consequences for me as a client—please correct me if I’m wrong. Here’s what I say to my workshop attendees and paper class students when this scenario comes up:

  • If the paper is not supplied on time, you hold up the press schedule—yours and everyone else’s. Does the printer have a charge for that?
  • If there’s a problem with the paper, are you willing to argue with the paper supplier. And who decides (has the most leverage) if the printer and paper supplier disagree about the source of the problem?
  • Will the printer charge you storage and handling fees that eat up what you think you’ll save?
  • To get optimal use out of the press slated to run your job, doesn’t the printer know best what roll/sheet sizes to order?
  • The printer has an ongoing relationship with its paper merchant, usually buying a few more sheets (make that tons of paper) a year than I would and thus getting a better price to begin with.

“As a printer who buys many tons of paper per week, I can tell you my contract prices are around half the list price that you would pay as a one-time or occasional purchaser,” explains a printer friend of mine.

Sabine Lenz is the founder of, the first online paper database and community specifically designed for paper specifiers.

Growing up in Germany, Sabine started her design career in Frankfurt, before moving to Australia and then the United States. She has worked on design projects ranging from corporate identities to major road shows and product launches. From start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, her list of clients included Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Deutsche Bank, IBM and KPMG.

Seeing designers struggle worldwide to stay current with new papers and paper trends inspired Sabine to create PaperSpecs, an independent and comprehensive Web-based paper database and weekly e-newsletter. She is also a speaker on paper issues and the paper industry. Some refer to her lovingly as the "paper queen" who combines her passion for this wonderful substrate called paper with a hands-on approach to sharing her knowledge. 

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  • mlwitte

    I found your article honest and refreshing. Having been in the printing industry, then on the customer side and now on the paper supply side with my company there are good reason to buy your own paper as well as good reason’s not to.
    I advise clients unless they are buying massive tons – truckloads and carloads for a specific event or repetitive events buying your own paper might not make sense.
    I do want to dispel several urban legends that were presented in the article.
    1) When you order paper, if the mill excepts the order they do that with the knowledge of when it needs to be delivered. This avoids the issues you raised in what if the paper is late. 99% of the time the delivers all work out and even then communication with the printer gets that paper there on time.
    2) Any printer worth their salt knows how to document a paper problem. When well documented the mills stand by their product or failures and fix the problem.

    If you decided to go down this path as you mentioned you should gets quotes with and without paper being supplied. If your projects calls for Text/Cover stocks like Neenah, Mohawk and Finch where the costs are considerable even for small projects it might just be worth it as printers do tend to mark up the paper they resell and I would go down that rabbit hole as to how much that can be.

  • Gerry

    For starters, find out if your paper consumption is large enough to elicit the attention of a paper mill. If so, then the key to sucessfully providing your own paper is aligning yourself with a professional paper rep and the printer, and work together as a team. You may involve yourself as little or as much as you prefer, depending on your allowable time, but authorizing an experienced and trustworthy paper rep to manage your paper costs, should lower your paper costs and ease your burden. There are other numerous advantages, which were not mentioned here, but it is certainly worth a look.

  • Beto

    Hello I am a purchasing manager that buys prinrt, I agree let the printer suply the paper. Only in cases where your volume is so large, and on going then you can work a situation with the printer.

  • Dan

    Another consideration in this matter is the market knowledge a well versed printer may have over a publisher driven event print job. The paper market is changing by the day, no make that by the hour. As a senior paper buyer we purchase and communicate with key mills on a daily basis. We even have access to mill production schedules, production shut downs, raw material shortages, market demand, etc. As well we may know when competitive mills are raising prices and prebuy some paper to avoid the increase on your behalf. All of this deeply imbedded knowledge comes from the daily interactions with key mills and the market. As a customer supplying the paper the interaction may or may not be less frequent thus missing a major change in the market between spends. Yes, we all need to cut costs, but at times a purchase of paper can miss the best opportunity in the market to keep your costs down.
    Welcome dialogue between the customer and the printer is always welcome in this topic arena. Together it can make a large difference to your project.

  • Brent Clarke

    Hey Sabine, this is quite the timely article as there is a very long thread in Linkein right now on this very subject. We work with printers and print management companies and I tend to agree with all your points. The variance as is outlined by a couple of the comments below comes in where you are dealing with the end client who is having millions of dollars of print produced and where based on geography might be dividing the print up for different printers in different geographic areas and this only makes sense where a well coordinated partnership exists between client, printer(s) and print management company. In a few cases, it makes where the total volume is such that economies of scale can make this model work to the benefit of all parties including the printer. Otherwise I say, let the printers do their job!

  • Charles McKay

    It usually takes just one mediation time between (me) the printer and the paper house for my clients to NEVER want to furnish their own paper again… and the small mark up I put in the quote will never equal what they could buy the paper for